For a Dutch language post on the Pantheon and walking in Rome: “Piazza Navone, het Pantheon en de zonsondergang op de Piazza di Spagna”
For a Dutch language post on the Vatican and Saint-Peters: “Het Vaticaan en de Sint Pietersbasiliek.“
After our breakfast we headed out in the direction of castle Sant’Angelo. On the Via Della Conciliazione we bought two Roma passes for 3 days ( 36 euro/pass for a adult, which includes free entrance to two museums, free public transportation, reductions on all next museums, and a map of Rome) The TIP ( tourist information point) where you can buy the pass is located at the end of the street ( close to the Castle on the left side of the road when facing the Castle). It is only a small office, easy to miss, and the Italians tend to show you the wrong way (instead of saying they don’t know).
We continued our walk to the Castel Sant’Angelo, which we viewed only from the outside. The castle was built as a mausoleum for emperor Hadrianus and later became a prison and a fort. On top is a statue of the arch angel Gabriel (placed as a sign of the end of the pest epidemic in the year 590).
We crossed the Ponte Sant’ Angelo, (the bridge was built in 1450, after the old Roman bridge collapsed under the weight of pilgrims visiting the tomb of Hadrianus) decorated with the Angels by Bernini each bearing a symbol of the passion of Christ. The two statues from the hand of Bernini were placed by pope Clemens IX in the church of Sant’Andrea della Fratte, and replaced by copies.
We walked through the Via dei Coronari to Piazza Navone. The oval market place is built on the ruins of the remains of the athletic stadium of emperor Dominatius ( on the North side of the piazza you can still see parts of the stadium). Eye catcher is the fountain by Bernini symbolizing the four rivers: Nile, Ganges, Donau and Rio Della Plata. The church in front of it is by the design of his rival Boromini, and that is why one of the statues on the fountain turns his head away, and another shields it off with his hand. Boromini placed one statue in the facade of the church that also looks away from the fountain by Bernini. In the church you still find the skull of Saint Agnese who died a martyr (for public nudity)
Because we had pre-booked tickets for the Vatican, we first took a coffee (or two) at piazza Chiesa Nuovo: in the loggia of a 15th century cloister: Ciostro del Bramante in caffetteria D’Art, Arco della Pace 5. On the way back we cooled down with an ice cream from Gelateria dell Teatro in Via dei Coronari 65.
If you visit the Vatican, do book your entry tickets online, it is so much fun to walk past the long queue of people waiting to get in. You walk in, pass the baggage check and pick up your actual ticket at the ticket booth. Be aware of the very strict dressing code for the Vatican: shoulders and knees must be covered. Take a scarf with you, or take one of the white paper like cover-ups you can pick-up at the entrance, but which are a bit of a hassle to wear. The automatic escalator was in repair, so we had to walk all the way up to the start of the museum. Here you can pick up your audioguide. We started with the pinacoteca, where a copy of the Pieta by Michelangelo stands in front of the entrance door. The Rafael room at the end is really impressive, with the Flemish woven tapestry all around the room depicting the Last Supper taken from the work of Da Vinci, and others using cartoons by Rafael. In the middle of the room are three beautiful paintings by Rafael, one being ” The transfiguration ” the last painting Rafael made before his death. They say the face of Christ was the last thing he painted. The painting on the right is named ‘ Crowning of the virgin’ the one on the left ‘ Madonna of Foligno’. In the next room you have a painting by Da Vinci (St. Jerome) and paintings by Caravaggio further on.
Before visiting the rest of the museum take a peek outside at the impressive gardens. We then continued through the museum. The tourist groups make the museum at times feel uncomfortably crowded. The first highlight is the room of maps. With impressive ceilings, and walls covered with old maps.
Next are the Rafael rooms (La Stanza di Rafaello), where Rafael’s paintings match the luxurious decorations.
You then are herded into the Sistine chapel. Try to get a seat at one side of the room, so you can look at the ceiling more peacefully. The guards try to guide the groups through the room as fast as possible, shouting ‘silence’ and ‘no photo’, every five minutes. At times it becomes difficult to listen to the audioguide, with all the noise in the chapel. I visited the Vatican in April the last time and even then it was very crowded in the chapel. Just sit down, and focus on the masterpiece by Michelangelo.
Last time we left the chapel through the door at the right at the end of the chapel where groups also leave to immediately visit the basilica, but since we had booked the Scavi tour two days later, (which we would combine with a visit of the basilica), we returned by leaving the Sistine chapel through the door on the left. After the overcrowded hustle before the chapel, suddenly the rest of the visit is surprisingly quiet, with all the groups left to visit the basilica.
So if you want to walk part of the Vatican more quietly, this is where you find it. You leave the Vatican via the beautiful spiral stairs. There are ways to visit the Vatican more exclusively. The Vatican sells tickets that combine a breakfast with an early morning visit of the Vatican and the Sistine chapel, before the tour groups arrive. But it is an expensive option. (65 euro/person)
If you have little time in Rome and you wish to visit the Vatican museum and the Saint Peter’s basilica at the same day, you can take the following option. Book your tickets online for the Vatican museum, making sure you still have enough time left to visit Saint Peter’s basilica afterwards. Walk into the museum, do not take an audioguide but take a good guidebook with you. When you come up to the second floor where the visit starts, first take a look at the spiral stairs. This is normally the exit, so do not go down the stairs because you will exit the museum without visiting. Just take a look at the stairs from above. If you wish to visit the Pinacoteca (which I strongly advise, do this first). Also take a peek into the gardens now. Then continue your visit of the Vatican museum. The room of maps, the Rafael rooms and of course the Sistine chapel are the absolute highlights. In the Sistine chapel you will normally take the door at the end at the left side to continue your tour of the museum and to go back to the entrance/exit. If you do this you will have to walk a long way back to the exit, then walk all the way back to Saint Peter’s, and stand in line to get into the church. But if you take the door at the end of the Sistine chapel on the right you will immediately enter the basilica without having to stand in line! Now you do have to know that this exit is reserved for tour groups only. There is a guard at this door, but this guard is not always very attentive to whom is using this door. The easiest way is to exit together with a group, preferably when the guard is not paying too much attention. During our first visit to Rome we also used this exit to immediately visit the basilica after visiting the Vatican. You enter the basilica on the right hand side of the church (the side where you can get a ticket for visiting the cupola). Just be aware of the fact that you should not normally use this exit and that you can be sent back by the guard, but if you do it in a not too obvious way, it should not be a problem. I got this advice from another blog about Rome, and have used this method successfully myself. The link to this blog: Ron in Rome.
We then took a taxi to visit the Pantheon. ( I did not manage to find the right bus at the Vatican and no one was able to help me out, and it was far too hot to walk). It costed only 8 euro! Four bus tickets would have costed 6 euro! Unfortunately, I managed to get my sunglasses stolen in the Pantheon. I put them with my hat and guidebook next to me on one of the benches, and when I took my stuff to leave, realized my glasses were gone. I retraced my steps, but no one had seen my sunglasses :(. Be aware of pick pockets, everywhere in Rome, we also witnessed a little scramble between a tourist and some pick pockets in the subway station. The Pantheon is free to visit, and is a masterpiece of architecture (second century, by emperor Hadrianus).
We took the aperitivo in La Caffettiera, Piazza di Pietra, 65, +39 06 679 8147, where they serve great coffees, fresh juices, aperitivo with aperol spritz, or Hugo spritz ( elderflower and mint), and dinner at Brassai restaurant, via dei Coronari , via Panico. They have great cocktails, we had our first great aperol spritz here and great food: pizza, pasta and salads. Good price/quality balance.